Baseball Glove History
It has been said that baseball gloves just might be a baseball player's best friend. With a little information about choosing the right baseball gloves, and with the proper fit and care, it just might be true. The following information is intended to serve as a guide in selecting a style and size that is right for you, or your youth.
The baseball glove and the baseball are a perfect pair. They've been together for just about as long as the game itself. When were baseball gloves invented and how have they changed throughout the years?
Vintage Baseball Gloves
Since around the 1870s, the baseball glove's basic function was to protect the hands against injury from catching the ball. Before that, the rough and tumble game provided no protection to the hands which caught or moved the ball however they could. A look at the history of baseball gloves shows that the first pair was not invented necessarily to catch the ball, but to knock it to the ground. Pieces of leather were sewn together and placed over the hand, and apparently it was thought that this was all the protection that was needed at the time.
But there was a time in the history of baseball when wearing a glove to protect the hands was not considered cool. Men preferred to catch the ball with his bare hands lest he be made fun of and called a "softy" for padding them. But legendary pitcher-then-baseman Albert Spalding changed all that when, in 1877, he walked out onto the field in his fingerless, black leather padded baseball glove. He made the glove so popular that he embarked on a mail order business of selling baseball gloves, with catchers of course being his best customers. The very first catcher's mitt sold by Spalding was fingerless. In 1890 the "Decker Safety Catcher's Mitt", named after the famous ex-catcher Harry Decker, was quite simply a glove stitched to the back of a leather pillow worn on the palm of the hand. While historians are divided about who wore the very first catcher's mitt, most agree that Decker, and Joe Gunson of the Kansas City Cowboys (who is said to have thought up the mitt but was too busy to market it), were among the first to wear it and that Decker actually patented it.
Some say that the first baseball player to wear a glove was Doug Allison, catcher for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, in 1870, because of an injured left hand. However Spalding said that he saw Charles C. Waite wearing a flesh-colored glove (so as not to be easily seen) in Boston in 1875, in order to protect his hand.
Both game and glove have changed along with the rules. Today it's difficult to fathom the men without the mitt. Over the years, baseball gloves have added padding and the woven basket-style pocket such as what we see today. Using the latest technology, gloves are a lot more flexible and durable.
The very earliest glove, the one used to knock the ball to the ground, looked something like a working glove with the fingers cut out of it. By the 1890s, what resembled a more modern baseball glove began to emerge. A new century found players beginning to wear baseball gloves until it became standard practice. The glove became more padded, had fingers, and looked like a large hand opened up although the catcher's and first baseman's gloves were round and looked like a pillow with an indentation in the middle.
By about mid-century the fingers were laced together and contained a pocket between the index finger and the thumb.
Today there are countless styles and models of baseball gloves to choose from, depending on what position the glove is being used for.
Different Kinds of Baseball Gloves
There are about as many different styles of custom baseball gloves as there are different kinds of players on the field. Whether an adult, youth, infielder, outfielder, baseman or catcher, and whether the mitt has an open or closed web, finding the right glove for yourself or your player is essential.
Choosing the Right One
There are many things to consider when looking for the right glove, most importantly making sure to have the appropriate mitt for the position, and then having the right size for that position. An infielder glove is smaller than the outfielder glove, and baseman gloves and catcher's mitts are a little bit different. Make sure the glove is the proper fit, because if it's not it can hinder a player's performance.
Baseball gloves come in all sizes to suit the age and size of your player. They can range in price anywhere from $15 to a couple hundred dollars or more depending on the model, and craftsmanship of the manufacturer. Given that children grow out of their gear, you might consider a low-end glove when they're young and settling into an expensive one when they're full-grown.
Youth sizes range anywhere from 8 to 12 inches. To determine the correct size for your young player, measure palm side up from the heel of the glove (near the wrist) to the top of the glove. Probably the most common mistake that parents make is buying their child a glove that is too large for them to close their hands. Generally younger kids, around 8 years of age, will do well with an 11-inch glove; teenagers might fit a 12-inch glove.
Adult sizes will range from 10-3/4 inches to 13 inches, depending on the position the glove is designed for, although official baseball rules say the glove should be no larger than 12 inches.
Open and Closed Web Gloves
Though it mainly comes down to personal preference, choosing a web style requires some knowledge about the different kinds and what they are used for. Different styles of webbing include: trap, single patch, basket, I-webs, H-webs, and T-webs. The trap web style involves a piece of leather attached to the palm of the glove and features a generous amount of lacing for versatility, which is a good glove for general trapping of the ball. Single patch webs are leather pieces joined to the pocket by double X laces, and are popular with middle infielders because fingers cannot get stuck in the webbing while retrieving the ball from the pocket. Basket webs are a like single-patch webbing, and are preferred by some because they tend to be more durable and offer more flexibility. I-Webs are used by infielders because they allow the player to snag and retrieve the ball more quickly. H-Webs tend to be more sturdy and flexible and are used by some infielders and outfielders because they allow the player to see through the webbing at fly balls and high balls. Like the H-Web, T-Webs, or single-post webs, are made of horizontal and vertical strips of leather woven together to offer flexibility and visibility.
The Right Glove for the Position
Different positions call for different kinds of baseball gloves. Choosing the right one requires knowledge and experience.
The Infielder Glove
Though this glove comes in numerous choices, the basic difference is it's smaller, about 10-1/2 -12 inches long, and is five-fingered for quicker retrieval of the ball from the mitt, and is typically worn by second and third basemen, shortstops, and pitchers.
First Base Gloves
This glove looks like a catcher's mitt but it's a little longer for easier catch of infield throws and has less padding, and a shallower pocket.
This position requires the player to retrieve the ball from the pocket quickly from the throwing hand and so the mitt is designed a little smaller with a shallower pocket for more flexibility. The second base position prefers the smallest glove needed for faster double play transfers of the ball, and there are many good manufacturers of this specific kind of glove.
Due to the specific demands of this position, the player makes more frequent, quicker catches, so shortstops may want a larger glove, such as the 11 to 12-inch glove designed for infielders.
A third baseman will want a mid-sized versatile glove about 11-3/4 inches to 12 inches, with a deep pocket and durable web for quick catches. This player generally prefers an open-backed glove.
Larger and longer, this roughly 12-inch, five-fingered glove features deeper pockets. The style allows outfielders the advantage of reaching fly balls. When considering a glove, the outfielder will want to look at several things: web design, back, size, fit, and pocket. It boils down to personal preference, but most important the glove should contain pockets deep and long enough to snag fly balls and retrieve them from the mitt very quickly, and that it allows for flexibility of movement. The outfielder will likely prefer an open-web style and a comfortable back design. A glove 12-3/4 inches is the mean size for most outfielders. Choosing a web style calls for some practical measures. First of all, because the player is retrieving fly balls it is important to be able to see through the webbing. The added bonus to the open web is it allows outfielders to use the design to shield their eyes from the sun. And the web style should allow the player to be able to close the glove snuggly around the ball, and retrieve it quickly from the pocket, so manufacturers generally make two kinds of webs for outfielders: the trap style design for flexibility, and the dual post or "H-web" that is both strong, and allows the player to see the line of vision.
The catcher probably has the most physically demanding position in baseball. For this reason finding a good mitt cannot be understated. Among the top elements to consider when choosing a good catcher's mitt are protection, support, and durability. As far as the mitt itself, it looks different compared to other styles. For one, the catcher's mitt is rounder and more padded and has a closed web. Historically, the earliest catcher's mitts looked something like a flat pillow with an indentation in the middle. The mitt offers two general styles: opening just above the wrist, or closed back with an index finger hole for better support depending on personal preference.
Baseball Batting Gloves
The batting glove is also in a league of its own. Worn during a game since 1964, and an accessory used in MLB since the early 1980s, the glove provides the batter with the support and comfort needed while hitting the ball, although not all batters use gloves.
Softball gloves are larger, have five-fingers and oversized pockets to catch softballs.
Female baseball gloves are designed for women players with narrow fingers and a smaller wrist.
Youth baseball gloves: Compared to adult gloves, youth gloves have smaller finger and wrist openings and sometimes have larger pockets.
Outfielders: 12-13 inches
Infielders & pitchers: 10-3/4-12 inches
Softball gloves: 12-14 inches
Youth: 8-12 inches
Caring for the Baseball Glove
Aside from the less expensive glove made from synthetic material and designed for youth, there are basically three grades of leather gloves. Critics suggest that to get the most from your glove, choose a better grade leather glove. First there is the glove made from standard top grain leather coming from animal hide. Next we have premium steer hide, which is stiffer and heavier and takes longer to break in, and then there is full-grain leather made from heavy, high-grade steer or cowhide and requires a long break-in time.
Whichever grade your budget will allow, proper care can improve the life span of your glove. Manufacturers of baseball gloves generally offer instructions for proper maintenance, but here are a few tips. Store your glove in a cool dry place when you're not using it, because heat and moisture can affect the leather. If your glove gets wet, towel and then air dry it. Do not loosen the laces, keep them taut. Only oil your glove a few times per season - do not over oil, and do not use linseed oil, or neat's-foot oil or silicon, because these can close the pores in the leather. Critics recommend using petroleum jelly, or products designed specifically for the care of leather.